Ai-jen Poo: Domestic workers are "the most visible invisible workforce" who are transforming the US Economy
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Ai-jen Poo on the 'Invisible' Women Who are Transforming the US Economy | Asia Society
You’ve noted before that domestic workers are “the most visible invisible workforce.” What do you mean by that?
In most places these days, working families are having to rely on other workers to support their family tree needs. You can often find nannies pushing strollers down the street in Manhattan. You can see healthcare workers pushing wheelchairs near senior centers.
They are sort of everywhere, and yet, incredibly invisible in that they are not — especially when it comes to the private pay domestic care workforce — registered anywhere. Oftentimes they make direct arrangements with individual households and find their jobs through word of mouth. You could go into any apartment building and not know which apartments are actually somebody’s workplace and which are not.
There’s an invisibility to this workforce and yet each of us — because we have family care needs of one sort or another — interacts with this workforce in one way or another.
So who are these domestic workers? Are they typically of a certain background?
Domestic workers are anyone who works in a private home, taking care of children, elderly, people with a disability, and the people who take care of homes. It is largely women — 90 percent of the workforce is women — and they range in age. We have members who are in their 80s who are still working as caregivers for other elders, and we have very young members who maybe even started doing this work with their own mothers.
It’s also a very diverse workforce. At one point when we surveyed the workforce, there were workers from 74 different nationalities that we talked to. Every city has a slightly different demographic. In New York, there’s a large concentration of Caribbean immigrant women, Latinas, also Asian women. In Chicago, 30 percent of the workforce is Polish immigrant. In Atlanta, many African American women still do this work.
It’s a very diverse workforce, a very global workforce, a lot of immigrants, but also people of all walks of life.
In September 2014, you received the MacArthur “Genius” Award. How will you use the prize money?
We are going to be launching a fellowship program for domestic workers to come onto the staff of the National Domestic Workers Alliance as fellows and help build out our public policy programs, our membership programs, and deepen their leadership and engagement. We want to continue to develop generations of domestic worker leaders who can take our movement to the next level and contribute to broader movements for immigrant rights, economic opportunity for women, healthy democracy — all of the things we know we need for a thriving 21st century.
Story Type: News